Ankle Exercises

I have compiled several groups of different exercises that one could do to help strengthen their ankle.  These groups include Strengthening, Balance, Agility/Plyometric, and Stretching.  I would recommend performing each of these exercises at least once a week, but feel free to add in additional workouts.  If you do perform these exercises multiple times per week, alternate strengthening and balance workouts on different days so fatigue does not prevent you from performing the exercise correctly.  Stretching can be a daily occurrence.

Ankle Strengthening Exercises

– Dorsiflexion – bring toes up
– Plantarflexion – push toes down (to accomplish this, simply do a calf raise)
– Inversion – bring foot in
– Eversion – bring foot out
– Toe Curls
– Toe Extensions

The four directions of dorsiflexion, plantarflexion, inversion, and eversion should first be done isometrically.  This means you are contracting your muscles, but the foot isn’t moving, as if you put the inside of your foot against a wall and tried to move the wall.  You obviously won’t move the wall, but you can feel your muscles contracting.  Then, when you need a harder challenge, increase resistance with resistance bands, weight machines, or ankle weights placed on the foot.  To increase plantarflexion resistance, simply do calf raises and utilize your body weight (perform calf raises both standing and seated, they target different muscles).

Toe curls can be done several ways.  The most common way is to place several marbles on the floor and pick them up with your toes.  For toe extensions, I recommend using a resistance band or have a partner apply manual resistance.
I recommend 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions of each exercise.  If you are rehabilitating, listen to your body.  If you are extremely sore or notice an increase in swelling following a day of exercises, back off a bit.

Balance Exercises

– Single Leg Stance
– Single Leg Squat (no more than 30°-45°)6
– Single Leg Stance while swinging non-weight bearing leg6
– Single Leg Stance while performing functional activity (i.e. dribbling a basketball)6

There is a progression when performing these exercises and the starting point all depends on your balancing ability.  A good starting point would be to perform all these activities on the floor.  When you are ready, increase the difficulty by performing these exercises on unstable surfaces such as thick foam pads, dyna-discs, or wobble boards.
Another way to increase the difficulty of these exercises is to close your eyes.  Eyesight is one of three factors controlling balance.  If you don’t believe me, try a single leg stance with eyes open and eyes shut, don’t hurt yourself.  Functional activities may obviously prove difficult with your eyes closed, however, dribbling a basketball with your eyes shut could also prove as a useful training tool.

I recommend performing 2-3 sets of 30-45 seconds of each exercise.  If you are rehabilitating, do not start this program right away.  Allow some time for your ankle to strengthen before attempting these exercises.

Agility/Plyometric Exercises

– Single or Double Leg Side-to-Side Hops
– Single or Double Leg Forward-Backward Hops
– Box Jumps
– Speed Ladder Drills
– Figure 8 Sprints
– T-Drill Sprints7

The side-to-side and forward-backward hops are exactly as they sound.  To make things easier, pick a line on the court and use that as a reference point.  For box jumps, choose an appropriate height and jump with both legs onto the box making sure that both feet land simultaneously and with knees bent.  Make sure the box is stable and can support the force of your weight.

There are a wide variety of speed ladder drills one can do.  To start, begin with simple drills such as sprinting through touching one foot in each box.  Then sprint through touching each box with both feet.  Another drill could be to face perpendicular to the ladder and zigzag your way through the boxes moving sideways.  There are so many drills that can be done with a  speed ladder, be creative!  Just remember, good posture, quick feet, and pump your arms!

Figure 8 and T-drill sprints are good “return to play” criteria following an injury.  If you can perform this pain free, you are more than likely ready for play.  For the figure 8 sprint, simply run in the pattern of the number 8 on the ground – be quick, but stay in control!  For the T-drill you will need four cones or landmark points.  Place three in a row about 5 meters apart and the fourth about 10 meters away from the middle landmark so you have made a “T.”7  Begin at the bottom of the T, sprint forward and touch the middle cone.  Side step to your left and touch the cone, then immediately side step to the far cone on the right and touch it.  Side step back to middle, then sprint backwards to the starting point.

I recommend 2-3 sets of 8-15 repetitions for the hops and box jumps, 2-5 sets of each speed ladder drill, and 2-3 sets of the Figure 8 and T-Drill sprints.  These exercises are very advanced for the individual rehabilitating from an ankle injury, only perform if pain free with sufficient strength!


– Straight leg calf stretch
– Bent leg calf stretch
– Plantar fascia stretch
– Foam roller

These stretches are fairly straight forward.  The easiest way to perform these is to utilize a slant board, but if one isn’t available, you can use anything that will put your ankle in dorsiflexion (toes up); a book, towel, or stair are all possible options.  When you perform the stretch with a straight leg, you are targeting the gastrocnemius muscle, the one closest to the skin.  However, if you bend your knee and perform the same stretch, you are targeting your soleus muscle which is beneath the gastrocnemius and closer to the bone.  Perform each stretch 3-5 times and hold for 15-30 seconds.

The easiest way to stretch your plantar fascia is to use a tennis ball or other spherical/cylindrical object.  Place your foot directly on this object and roll your foot back and forth over it especially targeting your arch.  It is a slow and deliberate motion rather than rolling your foot quickly over it.

If you have access to a foam roller, use it!  It is a powerful tool that helps to loosen the fascia surrounding your muscles.  Fascia is essentially a sheath that surrounds your muscles and is connected all the way from head to toe.  Fascia commonly becomes tight which can prevent full range of motion.  Make sure to roll out the major muscle groups of your entire body.

Good luck with your strengthening program!

1. Clark, M.A., & Lucett, S.C. (2011).  NASM essentials of corrective exercise training.  Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a Wolters Kluwer Business.

2. Starkey, C., Brown, S.D., & Ryan, J.L. (2010). Examination of orthopedic and athletic injuries.  Philadelphia, PA: F.A. Davis Company.

3. Friel, K., McLean, N., Myers, C., & Caceres, M. (2006).  Ipsilateral hip abductor weakness after inversion ankle sprain.  Journal of Athletic Training, 41(1), 74-78.

4. Hubbard, T.J., & Hicks-Little, C.A. (2008).  Ankle ligament healing after an acute ankle sprain: An evidence-based approach.  Journal of Athletic Training, 43(5), 523-529.

5. Houglum, P.A. (2010).  Therapeutic exercise for musculoskeletal injuries.  Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

6. McGuine, T.A., & Keene, J.S. (2006).  The effect of a balance training program on the risk of ankle sprains in high school athletes.  The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 34(7), 1103-1111.

7. Miller, M.G., Herniman, J.J., Ricard, M.D., Cheatham, C.C., & Michael, T.J. (2006).  The effects of a 6-week plyometric training program on agility.  Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 5, 459-465.

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